Immunization Still Remains A Low-Budget Neglected Area In India

Although India is a leading producer and exporter of vaccines, the country has the greatest number of deaths among children under 5, and the majority are from vaccine-preventable diseases. Less than 44 percent of India’s young children receive the full schedule of immunizations, commented a research study of Michigan University of the United States.

This is noteworthy, as vaccines are one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines vaccines as:

“A vaccine is any preparation intended to produce immunity to a disease by stimulating the production of antibodies. Vaccines include, for example, suspensions of killed or attenuated microorganisms, or products or derivatives of microorganisms. The most common method of administering vaccines is by injection, but some are given by mouth or nasal spray.”

Vaccines help prevent over two to three million children each year. However, another 1.5 million children still die from diseases that could be prevented by routine vaccines, as estimated by the WHO.

“The developing world should no longer experience 450,000 preventable deaths each year from rotavirus, nor 145,000 from measles. By the same token, there should no longer be 2000 preventable deaths each year from influenza in Australia. It is time to use our global health efforts to address the most pressing risks, both at home and abroad,” expects another article published in the Volume 45, No.1, January-February 2016 edition of the journal of ‘Australian Family Physician (afp)

Nevertheless, the bottom line is, an estimated 19.4 million infants worldwide is still missing out on basic vaccines, which otherwise come rather easily to the children of the developed nations of the world, as per the ‘Fact Sheet’ of the World Health Organization (W.H.O) of September 2016.

A commendable global initiative:

To resolve this inequity, in January 2000, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) was formed. This initiative was mainly aimed at generating sufficient fund to ensure availability of vaccines for children living in the 70 poorest countries of the world.

The GAVI Alliance has been instrumental in improving access to six common infant vaccines, including those for hepatitis B and yellow fever. GAVI is also working to introduce pneumococcal, rotavirus, human papilloma virus, meningococcal, rubella and typhoid vaccines in not too distant future.

Current ground situation in India:

In this area, the prevailing situation in India is much worse.

The Global consulting major – McKinsey in its report titled, “India Pharma 2020: Propelling access and acceptance, realizing true potential” stated that at 2 percent penetration, the vaccines market of India is significantly under-penetrated with an estimated turnover of around US$ 250 million, where the private segment accounts for two-thirds of the total. McKinsey expects the market to grow to US$ 1.7 billion by 2020.

Some of the important reasons for poor penetration of the vaccine market in India can be found in a March 02, 2016 research article published in the ‘Michigan News’ of the University of Michigan. The paper articulated some important facts, as follows:

  • Out of 26 million children born in India every year, two-thirds of them do not receive their vaccinations on time, prolonging their susceptibility to diseases and contributing to untimely deaths.
  • Only 18 percent of children are vaccinated with the recommended three doses of DPT vaccine.
  • Only 12 percent of children are vaccinated with the measles vaccine by the required age of 9 months, although 75 percent are vaccinated by age 5. This delay in vaccination can contribute to frequent outbreaks of measles in India.
  • India is adding vast numbers of new children who need vaccination, while the older ones remain under or unvaccinated because of immunization delays, is like “walking too slowly on a moving treadmill – you continually fall further back.”
  • India hopes to add rotavirus to its Universal Immunization Program, a free government-approved vaccination program that was looked at in this study.
  • The government has the infrastructure to deliver vaccines, but the motivations for delivering all vaccination doses decreases over time.
  • India hopes to add rotavirus to its Universal Immunization Program, a free government-approved vaccination program that was looked at in this study.

Needs both policy and budgetary support:

As stated above, the overall immunization scenario in India, as on date, is rather grim. Besides, in view of the humongous disease burden of India, immunization program with various types of vaccines should receive active encouragement from the government as disease prevention initiatives, at least, keeping the future generation in mind. In the next Union Budget of India, this issue should attract fresh policy measures, spearheaded by the Central Government, with requisite fund allocation both by the Central and State Governments.

Low immunization budget and other key barriers:

Health Affairs’ – a leading peer-reviewed journal on health policy thought and research, highlighted that India spends woefully little on routine immunization. Quoting data published by the Union Ministry of Health the report stated, only 2.1 percent of the national government’s health budget is allocated to routine immunization – a small amount given the country’s large population and the number of births. Although vaccines used in India are primarily provided free and through the government channels, over 30 percent of the population still purchase vaccines from the private market as a part of their out of pocket expenses.

Besides, there is a long list of other challenges to India’s immunization program. These include a shortage of trained personnel to manage the program at both the national and state levels; the need to undertake innovations in vaccines, disease surveillance, vaccine procurement, and effective vaccine management; the absence of good data on disease burden to inform vaccination priorities; the lack of baseline surveillance data for monitoring the effects of vaccination; and the absence of a system of routine reporting and surveillance, the report stated.

Everyone in the country is expected to fulfill the individual responsibility to get their own children properly vaccinated by properly following, and completing the vaccination schedule. Better all-round and ongoing communication of the long-term benefits of vaccination for many serious disease prevention against negligible side effects, could create greater awareness for compliance.

Indian vaccine market and the key local players:

A report titled ‘Vaccines Market in India 2013’, published by Netherlands Office of Science & Technology, New Delhi, estimated that vaccines contributed largest share in the total Biopharma sales with estimated sales of US$ 602 million in FY 2011-12 over US$ 417.5 million of the previous year. Over half of the top 10 firms in the industry are active in the private sector vaccines market has recorded a growth of about 25 percent.

India is not just a leading producer and exporter of vaccines, it develops and markets complex vaccines, such as, pentavalent rotavirus vaccine. There are around 13 major vaccine manufacturers in India. Companies like, Serum Institute, Shantha Biotecnics, Bharat Biotech and Panacea Biotech are taking commendable strides in this direction. Bharat Biotech is incidentally the largest Hepatitis B vaccine producer in the world.

Around 43 percent of the global Universal Immunization Program vaccine supply (more than 70 percent in the case of single vaccine) reportedly comes from India. Indian vaccine major Serum Institute is reportedly one of the largest suppliers of vaccines to over a 130 countries of the world and claim that ’1 out of every 2 children immunized worldwide gets at least one vaccine produced by Serum Institute.’

Expand Government immunization product spectrum:

It is high time for the Union Ministry of Health to expand the product spectrum for vaccines, as an integral part of its disease prevention program. It is recommended that the routine immunization program of India should now include other important vaccines, such as, Haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B, and rotavirus, as recommended by the National Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) on Immunization.

Conclusion:

Against this backdrop, a holistic immunization program can no longer remain a low-budget and virtually neglected area in India.

Effective resolution of this important issue by the Government would require both the Union and the State Governments to increase their respective budget significantly. It would help launching a well-integrated multi-pronged approach to include most of the remaining one third of the population in the state-run immunization program.

In tandem a strategic pathway needs to be crafted to expand the immunization product spectrum, increase awareness to encourage more household to take part in the holistic immunization initiatives for disease prevention, and counter the anti-vaccine advocates effectively. There is also an urgent need to make more investments in disease surveillance. An integrated approach towards all these initiatives would significantly help reduce the overall burden of disease in the country.

By: Tapan J Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.